There are lots of commonly held beliefs about family violence that simply aren’t true. Busting these myths and educating people about the realities of family violence is an important prevention strategy. Only when we, as a community, understand family violence can we hope to eliminate it.
MYTH: Family violence is rare and doesn’t affect many people.
FACT: Family violence has long been a hidden and underreported problem, but it is a very widespread social issue in Australia and around the world. 1 in 4 Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in Australian women aged 15 to 44 than any other preventable risk factor including smoking, obesity and high blood pressure.
MYTH: Family violence only happens in poor, uneducated or minority families.
FACT: Family violence occurs among all types of families, regardless of income, profession, region, ethnicity, educational level or race.
MYTH: Family violence happens because men get angry and lose control.
FACT: Family violence is about gaining control, not a loss of control. Using violence is a choice an abuser makes.
MYTH: Family violence happens because women provoke men.
FACT: It is common for abusers to blame women for provoking them, but there is no excuse for violence. Family violence happens because a person chooses to act violently. Most women experiencing abuse try to do everything they can to please their partner and avoid further violent episodes, but they remain vulnerable to further abuse regardless of their behaviour.
Just as men often blame women for provoking them to act violently, the wider community has historically blamed women for male violence – a woman who has been raped is told she shouldn’t have been wearing a short skirt or been out alone at night, a women experiencing intimate partner abuse is accused of failing in her wifely duties of keeping the house clean. This is called victim-blaming and can lead many women to blame themselves because they are constantly told that violence that happens to them is always their fault.
MYTH: If a woman was in real danger, she would just leave. If she hasn’t left, it can’t be that bad.
FACT: A woman is at highest risk of extreme violence, including murder, when she does leave an abuser. Many women stay because they are justifiably fearful for themselves or their children if they do leave. If a woman chooses to stay in an abusive relationship, it doesn’t mean the situation isn’t bad, it means she’s worried leaving might make it even worse. Other reasons why a woman might stay in a violence environment include:
- Fear, low self-esteem, shame, guilt
- Lack of financial independence
- Desire to maintain the family unit; sometime there may be family pressure to keep the family together
- Belief that the partner can and will change
- Isolation – lack of family and social support networks
MYTH: Only physical violence counts are family violence.
FACT: Family violence can be defined as any controlling or violent behaviour that causes emotional, psychological, sexual, financial or physical damage to a family member, partner or ex-partner, or causes them to feel fear. And, as many survivors of family violence can attest, supposedly “less serious” types of violence like emotional and psychological abuse can leave very deep scars and are very hard to overcome. All violent behaviour – be it emotional, psychological, or any other form – is harmful and inexcusable.
MYTH: Children aren’t really affected by family violence between their parents.
FACT: Seeing violent behaviour perpetrated by one parent towards another and growing up in an unpredictable, fear-filled environment can have significant detrimental impacts on children. Studies have shown children exposed to family violence are at greater risk of developing depression and experiencing behaviour problems. They can also suffer at school, developing poor reading and language skills, and struggling to make and maintain friendships. Under Victorian law, if someone is abusive towards their partner or spouse in front of a child, they can be charged with child abuse.
MYTH: Violent men come from violent homes.
FACT: It is true that some men who are violent come from violent backgrounds, but many men who abuse women and children do not. Many men who do come from abusive backgrounds are also not violent towards women and children. The relationship between exposure to violence in childhood and becoming an adult perpetrator is complex, but at the heart of the matter is the fact that violence is a choice and we can all choose to not act violently.
MYTH: Lots of women make false claims about family violence or exaggerate how bad the abuse is.
FACT: False claims about family violence are extremely rare. 80% of women who experience violence from a current partner don’t contact the police about it. When talking to family, friends and others, women are more likely to downplay their experience of violence than exaggerate it.